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Working for a More Just, Tolerant and Equitable World
By Leslie Vogel, '79

"What does [God] require of you but to do justice, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with your God?" Micah (6:8)

Born to Presbyterian missionaries serving the Navajo people in northeastern Arizona, I learned early to have compassion for those who are poor, suffering and marginalized. I also learned to ask why such suffering and inequities exist and to seek organized ways to address those causes.

My parents strongly encouraged me to attend Whitworth. I tended to question everything, and they knew that Whitworth was a place where students were expected to grapple with questions about how life issues affected our faith and about how we could live out our faith in in a suffering and broken world. I am deeply grateful to Whitworth for enabling and even pushing me to think about Christian commitment, not as something that puts up borders or protective walls around us, but rather as something that broadens, deepens and opens us to the world.

At Whitworth I heard a presentation by students who had recently returned from studying in South America with Professor of Sociology Ron Frase. They described meeting in a hidden room in Chile with a man who had just been released from almost two years of imprisonment and torture under Augusto Pinochet, the U.S.-backed dictator.

Two years later, that very man, Camilo Cortés, visited Whitworth as a guest speaker. He read Romans 8:18-38 with a heart that knew the sufferings of his country and his people, a people who were still longing and hoping for God's redemption. Some of the seeds of the rest of my life's journey were planted during those two presentations.

While at Whitworth I participated in a semester-long Urban Studies Program in San Francisco; I became active in the campus Hunger Task Force; and I joined "Nutrition 1985," a meal program that focused on the nutritional value and the global impact of the food we ate. These experiences led me to study with Ron Frase on the inaugural Central America Study/Service Term, in 1979.

Having only studied German previously, in Central America I threw myself into studying and practicing Spanish, and learning the culture and history. Although my frustrations and loneliness in the first months led me to write in my journal that I would never return to Central America, I gradually became proficient enough in Spanish to engage in conversations about ideas, feelings, hopes and dreams. We encountered refugees from the war in Nicaragua, as well as revolutionary and theological students from other parts of Latin America. Their stories stayed with me, and I was hooked.

After graduating from Whitworth, I returned to Latin America with a Presbyterian Women's global exchange, as an international observer to a Salvadoran refugee camp in Honduras, and as a teaching assistant for Whitworth's 1984 Central America group.

I continued meeting incredibly faithful, courageous people who were facing life-threatening and life-altering situations. Their committed discipleship amid great suffering transformed the way I read and interpreted the Bible. After completing theological seminary studies, I served for almost eight years in El Salvador, where I engaged in ecumenical pastoral ministries with women and was a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission worker. I served two additional years under Presbyterian mission appointment at Stony Point Center, in New York.

I worked in local ministries and as an interpreter/translator in Arizona while raising my children, Luz Rebeca and Amando. As they were reaching adulthood, I engaged in vocational discernment that renewed my sense of call to Central America.

The Protestant Center for Pastoral Studies in Central America (CEDEPCA) invited me to serve as its Intercultural Encounters Program facilitator; PC(USA) World Mission appointed me as a mission co-worker to fill that position.

I work with a team of Guatemalans to design and facilitate experiences of encounter, reflection, dialogue and mutual service between North Americans and Central Americans, all of whom are seeking a more just, tolerant and equitable world. The participants experience many challenges to their faith; so do I. In many ways, my life's journey has brought me full circle. I am now helping to lead immersion experiences that could change the lives of participants the way mine was transformed as a Whitworth student so many years ago.

Leslie Vogel is the recipient of the 2015 Alumni Mind & Heart Award

Read an article Vogel wrote for The Whitworthian while studying in Central America.